Sunday, January 06, 2008
Arms Race Looming With Singapore Defense Coalitions
By Kazi Mahmood, World Futures
Saturday, 24 November 2007
An arms race and a potential security problem may arise in South East Asia with the growing involvement of Singapore, a tiny nation state, in military coalitions with super powers in Asia and elsewhere, a defense expert said to WFOL.
“Given the sensitivity of the cultural and racial identity of the region, military coalitions with India for example could spark the wrong reactions from neighbor states. Singapore’s deals with India for example could be seen with a different eye in countries that does not have military ties with New Delhi,” he added, on the sideline of the Asean Summit in Singapore.
His views are joined by those of leading defense experts, who in emails to WFOL, said they were concerned that Singapore was getting too involved in military coalitions that could destabilize the region rather than make it safer.
India and Singapore signed an agreement in October this year, on a long-term arrangement for conducting joint training and exercises between the Indian Air Force and the Republic of Singapore Air Force. The agreement was signed by the Indian Defence Secretary Mr.Vijay Singh and Singapore’s Permanent Secretary of Defence, Mr. Chiang Chie Foo as the two-day 4th India-Singapore Defence Policy Dialogue.
During the dialogue, both sides gave an update on India-Singapore defence relations and expressed the need to further intensify cooperation. The regional security aspects, both from Indian and Singaporean perspectives, were discussed and this surely included the Straits of Malacca and the potential conflict ranging from territorial disputes and economic interests between Singapore and its immediate neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Singapore is also known as low level security partner for the Americans in South East Asia. The Americans however enjoy full access to Singapore and may also use it as launching pad for any attacks (future) that would target countries in Asia. “The fact that America is already there to safeguard Singapore in the event of any military conflicts is enough for the Island nation to feel secure in the region,” said the expert, who urged WFOL not to reveal his identity.
Furthermore, Singapore signed an agreement with India in October this year, agreement which will allow the air force personnel of the Republic to train at the Indian Air Force base in Kalaikunda, West Bengal, for the next five years.
Singapore is one of the world’s smallest countries, with its 704 square km territory scattered across 60 islands. “It will not survive any direct hits by an invading or attacking force but it may be possible for the Republic to fight back with enough fire power against any such attacks. There is no real understanding for this agreement with India,” said our expert.
He also said that the Singaporeans may need a well-trained military with fresh strategies they may learn from the Indians but this actually raises more concerns since it is the Indians that are seen penetrating the region with an agenda.
“Singapore is bordered by two large Muslim nations, Indonesia and Malaysia and bringing India in the picture militarily could be seen as a strategic mistake by the Singaporeans,” he said.
What is of greater concern here is that Indian may soon become a force that Singapore will reckon with to ‘patrol the Straits of Malacca’ and carry joint military exercises on land and in the seas around Malaysia and Indonesia. This could be seen as offensive in the future since neither Malaysia nor Indonesia has military ties with India.
India being a non-Muslim power force could make it harder for the Muslim nations to swallow and this could raise fears of an arms race and a ‘coalitions’ race in the region, which is totally unnecessary. “It is just like Malaysia and Indonesia signing a defense deal with Turkey or Iran and these nations carry out military exercises at the door step of Singapore. This will upset the Singaporeans,” said the expert.
Leading regional experts are concerned about Singapore’s growing involvement into joint defensive military coalition, which includes Japan, USA, Australia, and India. According to the new Singapore-India Defensive Agreement for the next 5-years Singapore military forces will get the access to airbases and training grounds in India. Besides training, Singapore is going to use India’s premises for its military forces disposition.
First of all, these plans will cross with military intensions of China in the region and as the result will have some negative after-effects for ASEAN countries. China has recently, during the Asean summit in Singapore, suggested that the regional grouping opens up to have more military ties with the Chinese giant nation. The offer was not rejected by the Asean though not all the countries in the organization are willing to accept to deal with China militarily.
Singapore’s military deals with India may cause disruptions and strains in the trade and economic relationship with China, the leading partner for the Asean. This is not simple matter and if it was to become a clash of interests between China and India, the region will be the first to suffer.
Due to the obvious growing Singapore’s involvement into pro-American coalitions, the whole future of ASEAN defense cooperation is doubtful, since as argued above, it is not safe and sane for every single member states of the Asean to bring their own coalition partners.
Any third party involvement in the Delhi-Peking competition in military and defense issues can become provocative for both sides and initiate the arms race in the region, undermining the peace that has been very well maintained in South-East Asia. This may also lead to troubles in the whole Asia-Pacific Region, insist experts in the field in emails to WFOL.
Besides the nations mentioned above, Singapore discussed defense ties with Vietnam. Singapore’s Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean met his Vietnamese counter part General Phung Quang Thanh in September to discuss bilateral relations. They discussed various issues, including the fight against terrorism, humanitarian aid, and peace keeping activities, the Vietnam News Agency reported.
The US too signaled its intent to enhance its military ties with Singapore, which is a country that is growing too worried of its geographical location, being too close to two largely Muslim nations.
It is true that the country’s location gives it a great geo-strategic significance for military powers like India and America; however the Singaporeans are too small militarily to take advantage of this strategic location. It is clear they were talked into the agreement with India, since India is aiming at countering the growing influence of China in the region.
India argued that Singapore could take advantage of its strategic location by having a well-trained military, but this arguments did hold sway with military experts who explained to WFOL that it is India that needs the strategic location of Singapore for obvious reasons. They argued that the Singapore-India military deal is part of the efforts by New-Delhi to counter the influence of China in Singapore and within the Asean.
Countering China in South East Asia has been the battle plan of the U.S. for decades but China remains the biggest net trader in the region. With the dwindling U.S. dollar, China is bound to become the biggest investor in the Asean member states and this will make it harder for the region to do without China in the long run. Hence the attempt by some parties to put India in the picture, using Singapore as stepping stone, said some experts.
They add that it is strange that India would grant Singapore the lease of its military base, something that India has not done before. In the future, it may mean that India would want territorial (surely seas) interests in Singapore, experts said.
On the other hand, the situation could be simplified if the Asean as an organization could create a pan-Asean military organization instead and this organization would be responsible for military coalitions in the region. This would then involve all the super powers in the region and in the world rather than individual nations bringing in their own military ‘coalitions’.
As an ‘integrated’ region in the future, the Asean will need a military agreement with each member nations and this would have to be sealed with the creation of a military command that would help solve future problems in the region.
Born in the tiny Island of Mauritius, Kazi Mahmood who lives in Malaysia, left behind a few good years of journalism in Africa. His days as a BBC reporter in Mauritius were exciting since he was also contributing to several London based African magazines, including the popular African Business.
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